Three Headlines for 2017: Chicago Cubs

The defending champions are primed for another serious run into October. They have a deep line-up, stellar rotation and a sound bullpen will make the Cubs tough to beat. Oh, and that mad hatter manager, he’s good too.

As we look toward 2017, there are very few questions, but a few new faces will take over in key roles. Here are my predictions for some of the main storylines for the Cubs this season.

1. “Jason Heyward returns to form”

Jason Heyward didn’t just struggle in his first year as a member of the Chicago Cubs, he was downright awful. So bad that he was benched during the World Series. Entering his eighth season, this 27 year old veteran is poised to bounce back. I expect Heyward to return to his pre-2016 form this season. Double digit home runs, 50+ RBI, .260 AVG and his perennial gold glove defense are my expectations for Heyward this season. He is too toolsy, and has been successful for too many years for him to bust in his mid-20’s.

2. “Almora Jr. makes Cubs fans forget about Fowler”

Albert Almora Jr. will take over as the full time centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs this season. The beauty of his ascension to the starting line-up is that there is very little pressure on him to produce at a high level. If Almora hits .260 (career .290 hitter in professional baseball) and plays superb defense, Joe Maddon will be pleased with his replacement for Dexter Fowler.

3. “Rotation Depth is tested on the North Side”

The Chicago Cubs were extremely fortunate last season. All five of their starters made at least 29 starts and logged 945 innings as a group. However, the group is a bit different heading into 2017. Jason Hammel signed with the Royals this offseason and the void is set to be filled by either Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson.

Montgomery is headed into his age 27 season and only has 190 career innings on the mound in the Major Leagues. Anderson had a career year in 2015, but struggled in 2016 with injuries. Anderson was only able to start three games last year, and has a history of landing on the DL.

The Cubs may need to look outside of the organization if they end up needing an extra arm in the rotation. The upper ranks of their Minor Leagues are thin when it comes to starting pitchers who can help at the Major League level.

**Check back tomorrow for “Three Headlines for 2017: St. Louis Cardinals” as we continue our preseason feature!**

Beer Review: Churchville Lager from Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company

The Churchville Lager is brewed by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company in Croydon, Pennsylvania, just a few miles northeast of Philadelphia. NCBC uses water from the Neshaminy Creek, a 40 mile long stream, in all of their beers.

The Churchville Lager tastes as advertised, “a no fuss amber lager”. It is easy to drink, refreshing and versatile.

The beer had all of the qualities that I would expect when tasting a lager, but was on the lighter side as I sipped it on this unseasonably cold winter evening. Flavorful, but not robust in any sense. Coming in with a SRM of 11.7 and a 4.9% ABV, it is the archetype of a stellar vienna lager.E51DFBFA-739F-49AA-8865-0EDE0295A6DF

As Neshaminy Creek put in the description on their website, the Churchville Lager is the perfect beer for “a night out with friends…or the holiday BBQ.”  I would not hesitate to bring the Churchville Lager with me to any outdoor party where I knew there would be a wide range of beer drinkers. Yes, even your Uncle Richard, who is still wearing those cutoff jean shorts and can’t understand why ANYONE drinks something other than Yuengling, would be interested in drink a few. And he’d probably feel pretty damn classy after taking the plunge.

The Churchville Lager from Neshaminy Creek is pleasing and I would recommend it to anyone. I’m also looking forward to visiting the taproom (my friends have given the space rave reviews) sometime soon!

 

 

Three Headlines for 2017: Atlanta Braves

Similarly to the Cincinnati Reds (featured yesterday) the Atlanta Braves are in rebuilding mode. This organization probably has more to be excited for beyond 2017, but this season should provide some glimpses of the future while also reminding fans of why baseball is the best damn sport on Earth.

1. “Big Sexy continues to defy the odds”

Bartolo Colon is beautiful. The guy has a waist size like an offensive lineman, but the moxie of the crustiest veteran. Despite throwing fastballs 90% of the time (and they aren’t even that fast) he pitches to contact, allows the defense to work and eats up innings. The young Atlanta staff will learn a lot from Big Sexy as he continues to be an effective Major League pitcher in 2017.

2. “Newcomb proves to have the makings of a future ace”

Sean Newcomb, rated as the organization’s 6th best prospect by MLB.com, should debut at some point in 2017. The southpaw will turn 24 this June, and his time is coming.

Sporting a sizzling fastball and a plus slider, many cite Newcomb’s inability to locate  only needs to refine his control in AAA before making the leap to the Majors. However, in 140 innings at AA last year Newcomb only walked 71 batters while striking out 152. The excuses may be more about controlling his service time clock than the reality of his control. Either way, expect Newcomb to join the Braves and show that he can be an ace down the road.

3. “Swanson to Albies to Freeman”

Tinker to Evers to Chance? So, this may be a little premature (maybe more appropriate for 2018) but I’m just too excited to see it. The Atlanta Braves are coming, and it starts up the middle with shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Ozzie Albies. Swanson showed off his talents last year and will start the season as the team’s starting shortstop. Albies will start off in AAA, but it is likely that Brandon Phillips will be dealt at some point this season and when he is, Albies will be brought up.

Check back later today for “Three Headlines for 2017”, Cubs edition!

 

Three Headlines for 2017: The Cincinnati Reds

I would like to start off by thanking the good people over at Redlegnation.com for sharing my article on the Reds (albeit a critical one) earlier today. I’ve had a ton of traffic come through this evening and it is a direct result of their support. They’ve been at it since 2005, and are certainly the first place I go to find quality, independent analysis of America’s first professional baseball team.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to run “Three Headlines for 2017” in an effort to highlight a few of the most intriguing players or storylines from each team as we head into the 2017 season. Because of the support shown from the fans of the Queen City baseball club, I’m going to start with the Reds.

3 Reasons to Believe

1. “Amir Garrett develops into a frontline starter”

This kid is going to be a frontline starter for an organization that desperately needs one. With Homer Bailey ailing and Anthony DeSclafani likely heading to the DL to start the season, Garrett is a near lock to make the starting rotation. I’m excited to see the 6’5″ lefty, who deals at a blistering pace, refine his mechanics and grow into a professional pitcher. If I were a Reds fan, I would keep a watchful on eye on Garrett’s development this season.

2. “Jose Peraza becomes a vital part of the Cincinnati offense”

Peraza is going to take over full-time duties at second base this season and he is like a Billy Hamilton, but a real baseball player.

You’re right, that wasn’t very nice, but it might be true. Hamilton is one a trick pony while Peraza is a legitimate ballplayer. Peraza flashed signs of brilliance during his rookie season (more like half of a season) and is expected to be a main cog in the rebuilding process. Peraza has hit at every level on his way to the Majors and is electric on the base paths. The 22 year-old Venezuelan should excite Reds fans for years to come.

3. “Out of the quicksand”

Take a deep breath, diehard Reds fan. The worst of the losing is over. While the club’s record may not improve much this year, there is hope on the horizon. Garrett, Peraza, Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and maybe even Cody Reed are here to guide the Reds into a successful future. No fan can stomach watching a team stuck in neutral, but this is no longer the case in Cincinnati. The Reds are moving in the right direction and they have some special young players to watch. Enjoy the season.

Check back tomorrow for a “Three Headlines for 2017” feature on the Atlanta Braves. I’ll be progressing through the Major Leagues from the earliest professional team (Reds, then the Braves) through the newest organizations (Rays and Diamondbacks).

Scouting Report: The NL East is oozing with young shortstop talent

The NL East is loaded with young shortstop talent. While they have been acquired through different means, these four young prospects are sure to excite fans up and down the east coast for the next decade and a half. Sorry Marlins fans, this one isn’t for you.

  1. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

Acquired in a 3-team deal in December of 2014:

Nationals Acquired: SS Trea Turner, RHP Joe Ross (from SD)

Padres Acquired: OF Wil Myers, RHP Gerardo Reyes, RHP Jose Castillo and C Ryan Hannigan (From TB)

Rays Acquired: C Rene Rivera, RHP Brunch Smith, 1B Jake Bauers (From SD) and OF Steven Souza and LHP Travis Ott (from WAS)

2016 Review:

Trea Turner, despite Dusty Baker’s best efforts to keep him in the Minors for all of eternity, was an absolute stud in his rookie campaign. Turner burst on to the scene to the tune of a .342 AVG., 13 HR’s, 40 RBI’s and 33 SB’s in only 73 games.

Turner finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting while playing out of position. While Turner appeared in 45 games in CF and 42 at 2B last year, he will take over at SS this season. The fact that Turner was playing a new position (CF) and still producing offensively tells me that the kid is mentally tough.

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Trea Turner by Keith Allison

In 2015, MLB Pipeline rated Turner as a 55 Arm and 50 Fielding, which equates to him being an average to above average MLB shortstop. Combine this with his unique offensive skill set, Turner is sure to be an All Star caliber player in the nation’s capital.

2017 Preview:

Turner is primed to lead the Nationals from the top of the line-up as they look to defend their NL East crown. With hitters like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy following Turner in the line-up, he should be in the mix to lead the National League in runs scored this season. I would not be surprised to see him finish in the top-10 of the NL MVP voting this year, the kid is that good.

Comparison:

Turner’s skill set makes me think of Jose Reyes in his prime, with the potential to be a Jimmy Rollins type of game changer. (By the way, check out J-Roll’s numbers, he is a borderline HoF candidate. Seriously.)

2. Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

Acquired via trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks:

Braves Acquired: Swanson, RHP Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte

Diamondbacks Acquired: RHP Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier

2016 Review:

Swanson made his MLB debut last season and ended up starting 36 games. In that time, Swanson hit .302 with 3 HR’s and 20 runs scored.

In 2016, MLB Pipeline rated Swanson with:

        Hit: 60         Power: 45          Run: 60         Arm: 55         Field: 55          Overall: 65

While the pressure of being a #1  pick will always follow Swanson, he handled the pressure well last season. Swanson displays a level of grit and leadership that is rare at such a young age.

2017 Preview:

As the Braves open SunTrust Park this year, Swanson is destined to be the face of the franchise. The Braves won’t compete this year, but with their #1 ranked Minor League system, they are not that far away. Swanson will flash a stellar glove, provide some pop and keep the southern belles wanting to run their hands through his serious flow. This guy plays hard and will lead the Braves in their rebuilding process.

Comparison:

Swanson reminds me of a more talented Brandon Crawford, but not quite a Derek Jeter. I think that the fans in Atlanta (East Cobb, whatever) would love if Swanson could be Robin Yount. 

3. Amed Rosario, New York Mets

Acquired by the Mets via International Free Agency in July of 2012 (1.75 million dollar signing bonus).

2016 Review:

Rosario continued to dazzle in his fourth season of professional baseball. Rosario, as he has throughout his career, competed against players who were much older than him in A+ and AA, but he excelled. Rosario hit a combined .324 AVG with 5 HR’s and 19 SB’s.

Rosario was recently ranked by MLB Pipeline as:

Hit: 50         Power: 45          Run: 60         Arm: 65         Field: 55          Overall: 60

While he is projected to have a better arm than Swanson, he is not seen to be as good of a hitter. However, Rosario has continued to hit at a higher clip as he climbs through the Minor Leagues (.342 AVG in AA in ’16) and is making noise in Mets camp this spring.

2017 Preview:

Despite hitting well in Spring Training (currently 5-for-16) Rosario is destined to head to the Minors to start 2017. He is only 21 years old. But with the long history of injuries to nearly all of the players that Mets have penciled in for their infield, Rosario could find his way to Flushing sooner rather than later.

Comparison: Rosario reminds me a bit of a young Edgar Renteria or Starlin Castro. I think that is his basement, with the potential to be a Barry Larkin type of player.

4. J.P. Crawford, Philadephia Phillies

Acquired via the 2013 MLB Draft, 1st Round, 16th Pick.

2016 Review:

Crawford is listed by MLB Pipeline and a number of other scouting services to be the Phillies top prospect, but he struggled in 2016.In his age 21 season, Crawford scuffled to hit .250 between AA and AAA while socking just 7 HR’s. Because Crawford fell short of expectations, he never made it to the Majors last season as many had expected.

Crawford was recently ranked by MLB Pipeline as:

Hit: 60         Power: 40          Run: 50         Arm: 60         Field: 65          Overall: 60

If all else fails, Crawford should provide gold glove defense up the middle for the Phillies sometime this summer. Not bad.

2017 Preview:

While it was disappointing to see Crawford flatline in 2016, the Phils are hoping it was a temporary setback. Crawford is destined to be in the Majors by mid-June and should play everyday for a team that is a few years away from competing. Crawford will dazzle Phillies fans with his glove, but must advance with the stick this season. Crawford is hitting under .200 in Spring Training, but this should not delay his promotion. Crawford has more pressure on him in 2017 than any of the aforementioned shortstops. 

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J.P. Crawford by Ian D’Andrea

Comparison: This one is tough after such a letdown of a year. Best case, maybe Omar Vizquel? A common comparison could be someone like Adrelton Simmons. I see more of a Shawon Dunston or Royce Clayton type of career for Crawford.

Conclusion: 

As a fan of the NL East, I am drooling just thinking about not one, but two of these guys on the same field on a regular basis. While all have serious talent, Turner is the most proven, Swanson the best all-around, Rosario with the highest ceiling and Crawford seems (at this point) to be a step behind. It sure will be fun to watch.

Comment below if you have any thoughts or opinions to share.

**Rosario photo credit to slgckgc of Flickr **

Shea is on the 60-day DL

 

I was hoping to get to an article about the ridiculousness of Tebowmania, the outrageous amount of shortstop talent that is coming in the NL East and a BIG announcement regarding a feature that will run throughout the month of March. But Shea, my beer keg shaped dog, is on the disabled list to start the season.

Shea burst by me as I came through the front door door of my house, sprinted through the front yard and into the street on her unexpected mission to see a dog across the way. A white Ford Focus was approaching and Shea flirted with the passenger side tire and rear bumper, just avoiding being crushed.

After a trip to the vet, Shea was diagnosed with two broken metatarsals in her right foot and will be in a wrap for the next six to eight weeks.

Thankfully, it is really the best case scenario. While her spirits are down, she should make a full recovery.

Baseball on Tap will get back on track tomorrow as I will be making an appearance on the G3P Podcast to preview the upcoming baseball season (link should be available on Thursday night) and the NL Shortstop article will follow shortly thereafter.

My apologies for the delay and thank you all for the continued well wishes for our pup!

 

Beer Review: Eight Point I.P.A. from Devils Backbone Brewing Company

The Eight Point I.P.A. from Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Lexington, VA) is worthy of it’s burly title.

The beer comes in at 6.2% ABV and is sure to put some hair on your chest, just like any real outdoorsman would proudly display through a flannel.

While the Eight Point I.P.A. has a sturdy body, it is something that can be enjoyed in volume while reminiscing about the day’s hunt, rather than a beer that needs to be stomached because it is too strong. This beer strikes the perfect balance between pungency and peacefulness. As DBBC describes the beer, it truly is “approachable.”

I would feel comfortable bringing this beer to an impressive early-season tailgate and hope to catch Devils Backbone at one of their Philadelphia area launch parties over the next two weeks!

Click here to locate Devils Backbone beer near you!